Fire rages around famous California Getty museum, but priceless art is staying put

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Sitting in the Santa Monica Mountains, the Getty Center is no stranger to wildfires in its proximity. Just two years ago during the Skirball Fire, a small fire started on the museum's adjoining hill. It was put out without incident, in part thanks to the Getty's massive irrigation system.

“The safest place for the artwork to be is right here in the Getty Center,” then-vice president of communications for the J. Paul Getty Trust, Ron Hartwig, said at the time.

On Monday, an even larger fire that bears the museum's name – the Getty Fire – was burning near its campus and forced thousands to evacuate the area. But the museum, home to 1,000-year-old manuscripts, multimillion-dollar paintings and the world's largest art library, has no plans to evacuate its treasures. The museum holds 125,000 objects of art and 1.4 million volumes in its library.

"We've sealed all of the archives, all of the galleries. No one is going in or out," current vice president of communications Lisa Lapin said.

The Getty Center's security team heard news of the fire crackling on the scanner shortly before 2 a.m. Monday. The museum's emergency operations center was activated.

Heavy, double doors locked in place, hermetically sealing every gallery – including a current exhibition of irreplaceable Manet paintings – and archive zone. The air system switched to recycled – much like a car – guaranteeing smoky outside air couldn't reach the artworks and historic documents, explained Lapin. 

Why the Getty is so fire-resistant

The $1 billion complex was designed by Richard Meier and completed more than 20 years ago. His design included safeguards for both earthquakes and fires.

The complex includes 1.3 million square feet of thick travertine stone, a highly fire-resistant material that lines the museum buildings' outside walls. The crushed stone used on the roofs of the museum buildings is also fire-resistant.

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